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Cross-cultural sex/gender differences in produced word content before the age of three years

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Does sex/gender matter for language acquisition? Small female advantages in vocabulary size are well-documented. In this study, however, we show that children’s early vocabulary composition is a significantly better predictor of sex/gender than size. We conducted classification analysis on word production data from children (12-36 months, n=39,553) acquiring 26 different languages. Children’s sex/gender was classified above chance level in 22 out of 26 languages. Classification accuracy was significantly higher than for models based on vocabulary size and increased as a function of sample size. Boys produced more words for vehicles and outdoor scenes, while girls produced more words for clothing and body parts. Classification accuracy also increased as a function of age and peaked at 30 months, reaching accuracy levels observed in studies of adult word use. These differences in vocabulary are indicative of differences in the lifeworld of children and may themselves cause further differences in development.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Science
Pages (from-to)411-423
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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